Guest blog: Archive Conservator Sarah Volter talks about a project to conserve two works of art on paper.

CMAS Archive Conservator Sarah Volter working on signed prints by Barbara Hepworth and Sonia Delauney

My role is dedicated to the long term preservation and repair of paper and archival items including: paper and parchment documents, books, maps, photographs and works of art on paper such as prints and drawings. I work with a wide variety of heritage organisations such as museums and archives as well as private collectors to advise on safe storage or display and environmental conditions. I carry out conservation treatments to prolong the life of their important collections and train heritage professionals in archive preservation.

As a Fine Art graduate, it was my pure pleasure to have two original prints by Barbara Hepworth and Sonia Delaunay arrive on my desk awaiting conservation treatment. They came from a picture framer who was framing the prints for a private collector of modern art.

‘Sun and Water’ print, by Barbara Hepworth

The Barbara Hepworth print was a lithograph on handmade wove paper, titled: ‘Sun and Water’. It was printed in 1971, and is one of 9 pieces from ‘The Aegean Suite’, which Hepworth began working on in 1970 in her studio in St Ives, she then completed and editioned them at Curwen Studios in London the following year. The print was hand numbered and signed by Barbara Hepworth in pencil. It was reminiscent of her sculptural work, and contained beautiful muted greens.

Overall, the print was in good condition. The image was not faded, which often occurs as a result of long term exposure to the light, and there were no tears or losses. It had been mounted and these materials were acidic. Ordinary cardboard contains acid from wood which migrates to the artwork, causing problems such as yellowing and the breakdown of fibres leading to embrittlement and tears. The back board was attached to the artwork using an unusual method of parcel tape ‘T-hinges’ and double sided adhesive foam was placed in all four corners of the original for extra adhesion. The window mount was hinged onto the back board using a strip of tape, which was not secured directly onto the print.

My first priority was to remove the print from the back board, as the window mount had caused yellow-brown discolouration to the margins. This type of damage is irreversible but further damage can be prevented by replacing these acidic materials with acid free mounts and protective packaging. Removing works of art from back boards is a gradual process, as the tapes used to hinge them are often still very tacky and are likely to graze or tear the original if not done so carefully and with the right tools.

Sometimes it is necessary for archive conservators to use solvent and water solutions in very small amounts to break the bonds of the adhesive and safely remove the tape. The tape hinges came off comparatively easier than the four double sided adhesive foam strips. After testing a couple of techniques, the foam strips were removed gradually, layer by layer then the remaining adhesive was removed. Unfortunately the adhesive from the foam had discoloured and caused staining to the corners.

After the mount was removed the print was cleaned around the margins to remove light surface dirt, I then re-mounted it onto acid free back board, which contains an alkaline buffer to prevent acid damage. I used acid free Japanese paper ‘T hinges’ which I adhered with wheat starch paste, which, unlike tape, do not discolour over time. The starch paste, as well as remaining colourless, also keeps its tack and is easily reversed with water if the hinges ever need to be removed.

‘Les trios Graces’ print, by Sonia Delaunay

The Sonia Delauney print was also a lithograph on wove paper, titled ‘Les Trois Graces’. It was printed in 1972 and was hand numbered and signed ‘Sonia Delaunay’ in pencil. The print was characteristic of Delaunay’s vivid, geometric style with its bright colours and circular composition.

Like the Barbara Hepworth print, it was structurally sound with no tears or losses, but it had been attached to an acidic window mat using masking tape. It also contained small creases and there was some slight discolouration around the edges from the window mount. Unlike the Barbara Hepworth print, the window mount had been attached directly onto the original with long strips of masking tape around all sides. After I removed the tape and separated the print from the mount, I reduced the creases to the paper so that they were less visible. At the request of the client, the framer re-mounted the Sonia Delaunay print using acid free board in preparation for framing.

Both works of art were packaged in protective acid free four flap folders for transport and storage until they could be framed. These folders protect them from light and dust and prevent any further acid damage. Using acid free materials for the mounting and packaging of works of art is vital to their survival, as is conservation framing; where all materials used to frame the item are archival. Good storage in a cool, stable environment away from strong light levels is also optimum for long term preservation.

The lithographs are now conserved and framed using conservation grade, acid free materials so that they may be enjoyed for many more years to come.

If you have any preservation or conservation queries, please do not hesitate to contact us at Or to find a conservator in your area, a great resource is the Conservation Register where you can search for a conservator by location or specialism.

Sarah Volter, Archive Conservator, Wiltshire Council Conservation and Museums Advisory Service (CMAS)




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